In today’s digital-first world, organisations are rethinking their communications and telephony service to increase efficiency, save costs and reduce complexity. Unified Communications (UC) is the answer to this need, blurring the boundaries of telephony and merging it with instant messaging, video conferencing and a plethora of different applications, such as CRM systems, contact centres, and reporting.Since its release in 2017, Microsoft Teams has significantly impacted the UC market thanks to its ease of use, free inclusion in most Microsoft business licenses, and slick desktop integration. In the past six months, mostly due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the subsequent uptake in remote working practices, Teams’ daily users have skyrocketed, increasing from 44 million in March 2020, to 75 million as of April 2020 .
As an integral part of Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 business licences, many organisations have chosen Teams as their preferred collaboration solution. With its free instant messaging, voice and video features, Teams is a no-brainer for businesses looking to simplify their internal communications. However, the solution opens a lot of questions for organisations considering it to support the telephony needs of the whole business, and how easy and cost-effective it is to implement.
How important is voice to your business?
The enterprise communications ecosystem is broad and complex. While instant messaging, content sharing and virtual meetings are becoming increasingly popular amongst employees, voice is still key to wider business operations. According to Zendesk, 68 per cent of customers prefer to communicate with a company via phone, with only 34 per cent choosing chat as their preferred channel2. Therefore, having the right UC solution is vital to make sure your customers receive the best service possible, while also increasing efficiency and operability within your organisation.When considering the best UC solution for your business, it is critical to first understand your business requirements and how these compare to the solution’s capabilities. Out of the box, Teams supports voice over IP (VoIP) calls to any other member of the business using the application, but it does not connect to your telephone network. This means that in its most basic form, Teams can only be utilised as an internal collaboration tool, while you will also have to retain a separate telephony solution for external calling.For organisations struggling to cope with too many ineffective internal communications tools, Teams offers the perfect single point of contact to enable collaboration across the business. However, Teams’ basic functionality will not provide the telephony features of a PBX, such as contact centre functions, queuing, and interactive voice response (IVR), that might be necessary to the wider business and that would be available with a fully integrated UC solution.
integrated UC solution. Moreover, minutes bundles cannot be shared nor carried over, and your organisation will require communications credits if you run out of minutes in your calling plans, or if you receive toll-free calls. In this instance, an empty communications credits balance would stop you from making calls altogether. To overcome this issue, Microsoft suggests setting up an auto-recharge amount with a minimum balance that will trigger a purchase for that recharge amount3 – a recommendation that could easily promote bill shock if you’re not keeping track of the additional expenditures. Microsoft Direct Routing is a more flexible, accessible, and cost-effective alternative to Microsoft Calling Plans, enabling users to make and receive calls using your existing telecom provider. This option is particularly beneficial to leverage existing contracts with service providers, and to ensure interoperability with on-premise telephony equipment and desk phones. Moreover, while Direct Routing’s costs depend largely on the carrier rates, it is fair to say that it will almost always cost less per user than Calling Plans, with many providers offering unlimited and flexible minutes bundles.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations adopted Microsoft Teams as the easiest option for their sudden remote working requirements. However, many are now re-evaluating their long-term communications strategy to understand which solution is best for business continuity and permanent remote or flexible working. While Teams is integrated into most Microsoft business licences as an internal collaboration platform, enabling external calls requires additional costs, including Microsoft Phone System licence and minute bundles. Microsoft Calling Plans and Direct Routing differentiate in terms of cost-effectiveness, number of suppliers, and flexibility of bundles. Alternatively, organisations might also want to consider adopting a fully integrated UC solution from a different single supplier.Ultimately, the solution you choose primarily depends on your organisation’s current and future needs, such as whether want to retain your current carrier, whether Teams has all the features that your business requires, how important an end-to-end SLA is to your business, and how much additional costs and complexity you’re willing to take on.
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